Away from it all: An expedition cruise around Chile and Argentina’s far south

As South America’s adventure travel favourites begin to reopen to tourists, Nori Jemil recalls navigating the wilderness at the continent’s southern tip

Sunday 07 November 2021 00:20
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<p>At the face of Pia Glacier</p>

At the face of Pia Glacier

Sitting on the striated rocks of a glacial moraine, looking across the water to Pia Glacier, we wait for the next shard of ice to fall. It occurs to me that these same views would have wowed the first Europeans who came here 500 years ago. It was 1520 when Ferdinand Magellan and his crew sailed the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, completing a three-year circumnavigation of the globe.

I’ve been coming to Patagonia for over a decade. While most tourists, quite understandably, head first to Torres del Paine or Argentina’s El Chalten for trekking, there is a world of remote, silent beauty beyond its best-known national parks. Towards the very end of the region’s Southern Cone lies Tierra del Fuego. Isla Grande, its main landmass, is cleft by the Chilean-Argentine border, while a myriad of smaller islands edge the south-west coast, separated by fjords and the Strait of Magellan.

There’s so much wilderness here, so far from human habitation, that it might just be one of the last bastions of undertourism. Chile’s Route of Parks, launched in 2018 and linking all national parks from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn, includes Alberto de Agostini – the third largest in the country and a location one can only reach by sea. A Unesco biosphere reserve, its sub-polar forest of native lenga and coigue trees makes it one of the most pristine locations on the planet. Like the Italian missionary and photographer it was named after, I was rapt as soon as I saw its peaks and glaciers.

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